Well, it’s been pissing rain more or less solidly up here in the capital since Sunday morning and, as we all know, there’s nothing like rain to settle the dust. As a result, I suppose it’s worthwhile to shift the debate on from last Saturday’s stinker and instead to place some focus on the very different road that now lies ahead for us in this year’s championship. We all know that (unless you’re Kerry and get a soft draw every single time) the qualifiers are an unqualified pain in the hole. But they’re all we’re now left with, unless, of course, we want to sit back and wait for the FBD World Series final with New York in October so we may as well start to get with the programme. So then, this is what it entails.
The first round of matches take place on Saturday, 26th June (i.e. the day before we would have been playing Galway had we won last Saturday) and we’ll be in the pot with the fifteen other counties who failed to make it to their respective provincial semi-finals. While there are a few tricky customers in there – such as Donegal, Armagh, Derry and Kildare – the likelihood is that we’ll get a softish enough draw in this round to help get us back in the saddle. This was what happened in 2007 when we drew Cavan. The GAA have confirmed that the first round draw will take place live on TV this coming Sunday (13th).
Once the first round has been played, there’s then a two-week break prior to the second round, which will see the eight first round survivors joined by the eight losing provincial semi-finalists. This is where it starts to get interesting, with either Cork or Kerry now in the pot, along with either Meath or the Dubs (assuming the latter beat Wexford this weekend) and maybe even Galway too. If we make it through round one, we’re almost guaranteed a tough match in round two, which is exactly what happened to us in 2007 when we pulled Derry.
Assuming we make it through to the third round (and I, for one, am not assuming anything on that score in advance – I think it’s highly unlikely we will, given our pretty obvious lack of appetite when faced with shit-or-bust contests), we’d then be faced with another humdinger seven days later against one of the other seven survivors from the previous round. If we get through that one, round four awaits a week later, though this should be almost as easy as round one, as it’d involve a clash with a deflated provincial final loser. Then, a week after that again, the next hurdle would be an All-Ireland quarter-final date with one of the provincial champions.
That, hombres, is the match-strewn road that faces us if we are to recover the ground we ceded in such a craven manner the last day in Markievicz Park. The opportunity for a glorious recovery is there, for sure, but only if we have the capability to adopt an entirely different mindset when the opposition – regardless of who they are – throw down the gauntlet to us. I simply can’t see that happening under the current management set-up but, equally, I’d love to be proved wrong on that score. Given the helter-skelter match schedule we now face, we won’t be left waiting too long to find out how far down the road to redemption we’re prepared to go this year.